Automatic for the people

Posted on 8 May 2024 by The Manufacturer

Despite its resilience and ability to absorb and adapt to change, the global manufacturing industry hasn’t had it easy in recent times. But, as Guy Menchik, Chief Technology Officer at Stratasys explains, things could be on the up thanks to certain breakthrough trends that could provide the vital shot in the arm needed to help ease the strain for the industry and those operating at its sharp end.

Be it sudden or ongoing geo-political events, global pandemics or cross-border trade wars, the global manufacturing industry will always be subject to disruptions that impact it in some shape or form. However, speaking from my own company’s position within the sphere of industrial additive manufacturing (AM) to multifarious sectors, one obvious constant is the way in which industry continues to innovate and thrive. Increasingly, AM technology plays an important role in that growth and some key trends that we have identified are contributing to that upward trajectory.

One such trend, which is hugely significant, and far-reaching across every sector, is automation. More of an umbrella term, automation is actually multi-faceted and encompasses a wide range of further trends and specific areas of innovation and development that are having, and will continue to have, a direct impact on AM technologies and their implementation.

In general terms, automation is enabling process optimization, whereby the AM process itself and/or the entire workflow is more streamlined. In this way, automation technologies are enabling AM processes to become more efficient, with higher productivity gains, as well as reducing production times and lowering overall costs, including that all-important cost-per-part. Automation is also impacting pre- and post-processing disciplines within the AM process chain. Thus, across the entire AM workflow automation is proving to be a key factor for ensuring improved consistency, tighter process control and higher quality output.

Learning to succeed

Add Intelligence: Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are two key drivers of automation for AM. These two sub-sectors of automation in particular evolved at an astonishing pace throughout last year. Some key AI and machine learning developments are being applied to AM processes in a plethora of ways and in doing so are enabling intelligent machine — and part — optimisation.

For parts, increased computing power and dedicated AI-powered algorithms are generating more accurate simulations that more accurately predict (and therefore avoid) build failure. Likewise, with the AM systems themselves, these technologies can support more effective predictive maintenance that greatly reduces machine downtime and improves overall productivity.

As we head into the second half of 2024, AI will likely evolve further with AM applications improving yields and success rates. It will also contribute to more flexible AM systems that will be able to deal with variety and geometric complexity in a better way.

Automation is also having a direct impact on material handling capabilities for AM, making it faster, easier and safer. Similarly, the automation trend is directly producing some advanced post processing solutions that speed up this notoriously dirty and labour-intensive part of the process chain.

Over the last several months, the pace of change has been intense in this regard and has yet to show any signs of slowing down. In fact, looking at the roads ahead, I would say it is likely to pick up the pace even more which makes for an exciting prospect for manufacturers.

Automatic for the PeopleGuy Menchik is Chief Technology Officer at Stratasys, which delivers smart and connected 3D printing solutions to address and overcome manufacturing challenges in key industries such as aerospace, automotive, consumer products and healthcare.



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